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America's New War: President Bush Announces Policy to Stop Payment on Terrorist Organizations

Aired September 24, 2001 - 09:34   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Time to head back to Washington right now, where John King stands by, awaiting the president's appearance in the Rose Garden this morning. Can you give us some details on what the president might share with us?

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We are a little more than a minute away, Paula, and the president will announce new steps the government will take in trying to crackdown on financial support for Osama bin Laden and his network.

Our Kelly Wallace is standing by in the Rose Garden, where we will see the president in a minute.

Kelly, you noted a bit earlier, there will be a great deal of skepticism here, because the Clinton administration tried this as well.

KELLY WALLACE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Exactly. The big question, just how effective this will be, because a similar executive order, the president signing one last night. Former President Clinton signed an executive order back in 1998, naming Osama bin Laden, a couple of associates and his Al Qaeda network and freezing their assets in the United States. And we understand, since that time, no U.S. assets had been located.

But we understand that this move will be broader in scope, that it will not only freeze the assets of bin Laden and the Al Qaeda network, but it will also target other terrorists, a lists of specific terrorists, and it will also bar any transactions between individuals and groups going to anyone suspected of engaging in terrorist activities. There is some concern that some nongovernmental organizations may possibly funneling money from the United States to bin Laden and other terrorist groups. We understand this will be broader in scope. The president to announce details.

John, he'll be joined by Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, and Secretary of State Colin Powell.

KING: And, Kelly, Should we infer from presence of Secretary Powell, Treasury Secretary O'Neill obviously deals with domestic here in the United States. Is the presence of Secretary Powell designed to send a signal governments overseas have to do this as well. WALLACE: Absolutely. The message is not just the United States, that all engaged in this international coalition against terrorism, need to take steps into their own countries, to choke off the money supply, to choke off the flow of funds going from those countries.

And here now comes the president.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Good morning.

At 12:01 this morning a major thrust of our war on terrorism began with the stroke of a pen. Today, we have launched a strike on the financial foundation of the global terror network.

Make no mistake about it, I've asked our military to be ready for a reason, but the American people must understand this war on terrorism will be fought on a variety of fronts, in different ways. The front lines will look different from the wars of the past.

As I told the American people, we will direct every resource at our command to win the war against terrorists, every means of diplomacy, every tool of intelligence, every instrument of law enforcement, every financial influence. We will starve the terrorists of funding, turn them against each other, root them out of their safe hiding places and bring them to justice.

I have signed an Executive Order that immediately freezes United States financial assets of and prohibits United States' transactions with 27 different entities.

They include terrorist organizations, individual terrorist leaders, a corporation that serves as a front for terrorism and several nonprofit organizations. Just to show you how insidious these terrorists are, they oftentimes use nice sounding nongovernmental organizations as fronts for their activities. We have targeted three such NGOs. We intend to deal with them just like we intend to deal with others who aid and abet terrorist organizations.

This executive order means that United States banks that have assets of these groups or individuals must freeze their accounts, and United States citizens or businesses are prohibited from doing business with them.

We know that many of these individuals and groups operate primarily overseas, and they don't have much money in the United States. So we've developed a strategy to deal with that. We're putting banks and financial institutions around the world on notice, we will work with their governments and ask them to freeze or block terrorist ability to access funds in foreign accounts. If they fail to help us by sharing information or freezing accounts, the Department of the Treasury now has the authority to freeze their banks' assets and transactions in the United States.

We have developed the international financial equivalent of law enforcement's "Most Wanted" list, and it puts the financial world on notice: If you do business with terrorists, if you support or sponsor them, you will not do business with the United States of America. I want to assure the world that we will exercise this power responsibly. But make no mistake about it, we intend to and we will disrupt terrorist networks. I want to assure the American people that in taking this action and publishing this list, we're acting based on clear evidence -- much of which is classified, so it will not be disclosed.

It's important, as this war progresses, that the American people understand we make decisions based upon classified information, and we will not jeopardize the sources. We will not make the war more difficult to win by publicly disclosing classified information.

And by the way, this list is just the beginning. We will continue to add more names to the list. We will freeze the assets of others, as we find that they aid and abet terrorist organizations around the world.

We have established a foreign terrorist asset tracking center at the Department of the Treasury to identify and investigate the financial infrastructure of the international terrorist networks. It will bring together representatives of the intelligence, law enforcement and financial regulatory agencies to accomplish two goals: To follow the money as a trail to the terrorists, to follow their money so we can find out where they are and to freeze the money to disrupt their actions.

We are also working with our friends and allies throughout the world to share information. We're working closely with the United Nations, the EU and through the G-7/G-8 structure to limit the ability of terrorist organizations to take advantage of the international financial systems.

The United States has signed, but not yet ratified, two international conventions, one of which is designed to set international standards for freezing financial assets. I'll be asking members of the U.S. Senate to approve the U.N. convention on suppression of terrorist financing and a related convention on terrorist bombings and to work with me on implementing the legislation.

We will lead by example. We will work with the world against terrorism. Money is the life-blood of terrorist operations. Today, we're asking the world to stop payment.

Now the Secretary of Treasury would like to say a few remarks followed by Secretary Powell, and then I'll answer a few questions.

PAUL O'NEILL, TREASURY SECRETARY: Thank you, Mr. President.

This order provides the authority to block funds of terrorists and any associated with a terrorist or terrorism. The order names specific individuals and charitable organizations that are funding terrorist acts. Donors now will know to avoid these charities that front for terrorists.

With the signing of this Executive Order, we have the president's explicit directive to block the U.S. assets of any domestic or foreign financial institution that refuses to cooperate with us in blocking assets of terrorist organizations. This order is a notice to financial institutions around the world: If you have any involvement in the financing of the Al Qaeda organization, you have two choices, cooperate in this fight or we will freeze your U.S. assets. We will punish you for providing the resources that make these evil acts possible.

Many of our allies around the world have already stepped forward to cooperate in destroying terrorism's financial infrastructure. I will be in contact with my G-7 colleagues again tomorrow to further coordinate our joint effort to shut down the financial underpinnings of terrorism.

Today's executive order gives us a new weapon to deny terrorists access to funds. The Foreign Terrorist Asset Tracking Center that we announced last week is up and running, coordinating information from among government agencies with the express purpose of identifying and stamping out the financial network that funds terrorism.

And we're working with the G-7 nations and many others to attack all parts of a global infrastructure that finances these acts of evil. Together, we will succeed in starving the terrorist of funding and shutting down the institutions that support or facilitate terrorism.

COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: Thank you, Mr. President and Secretary O'Neill.

As the president said, the campaign has begun. We're going after Al Qaeda, we're going after terrorism. And this is an indication of how we're going to use all the elements of our national and international power to do it.

Terrorists require a financial infrastructure. They require safe havens. They require places that will get them sucker (ph) and comfort. We're going after all of them in every way that we can, and we're focusing this morning on the financial infrastructure of terrorism.

We're going to take this initiative into the United Nations and try to get additional resolutions that will serve similar purposes. We're working with the European Union. We're working with the G-7 and G-8, as Secretary O'Neill and the president have mentioned. We're going to be working with Congress, as the president has mentioned, to get these two U.N. conventions ratified and the implementing legislation in place.

I'm very, very pleased at the level of cooperation that we are receiving from around the world, all civilized nations in the world understand that the civilized world has to go after terrorism. The World Trade Center, America suffered a grievous blow, but the whole world did. Some -- almost 80 nations suffered losses at the World Trade Center, and that's why the whole world is joining with us.

Nations such as the United Arab Emirates, which declared the Taliban no longer welcome and broke diplomatic relations. All of these are part of the campaign. It's a campaign that will be fought with persistence and with perseverance, and it will be fought until, as the president has said, we have prevailed and we have won.

Thank you.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) Secretary Powell mentioned yesterday, outlining some of the proof that you have of the involvement of bin Laden and Al Qaeda and others?

BUSH: I -- the secretary said that he'd be glad to talk about the paper. Let me first tell you that I gave a speech to the nation last Thursday, in which I spent a great deal of time talking about the Al Qaeda organization, as the first terrorist organization that we're going to deal with. And the reason I did is there is a lot of classified information that leads to one person as well as one global terrorist organization.

But for those of you looking for a legal peg, we've already indicted Osama bin Laden. He's under indictment for terrorist activity. Our war is against terrorism. Those who would conduct terrorist acts against the United States, those who sponsor them, those who harbor them, those who challenge freedom wherever it may exist.

And Mr. Secretary, if you'd like to make a comment on that.

POWELL: I just might point out that he has been under indictment for the bombings of our embassy. And as we gather information and as we talk to our friends and allies around the world and as we get more corroboration, more information is coming in with respect to his activities and the activities of his network.

Most of it is classified, and as we look through it and we can find areas that are unclassified and it will allow us to share this information with the public, we will do so. That would be our intent. But most of it is classified.

But there's no question that this network with this gentleman at the head, if one can call a terrorist a gentleman, just for purposes of illustration, this guy at the head of this network, the chairman of this holding company of terrorism, is the one who is responsible. And as we are able to provide information that is not sensitive or classified, I think we will try to do that in every way.

QUESTION: How much cooperation are you getting from Russia? And is Saudi Arabia going to allow us to use its air base? Or aren't you allowed to talk about it?

BUSH: Well, first I had an hour-long discussion, nearly an hour- long discussion with President Putin on Saturday. He was very forthcoming in his willingness to work closely with the United States in our efforts to battle terrorism.

I was very pleased with my discussion. I found him to be a person who, first of all, understands the vision, that we've entered into a new conflict in the 21st century. You need to know that when I was on Air Force One and ordered increased alert status for our troops, President Putin's call was the first call I got and he made it clear that he would stand down their troops. In other words, to me it was a moment where it clearly said to me that he understands the Cold War is over. In the past, as you well know, that had the president raised the DEFCON levels of our troops, Russia would have responded accordingly and there would have been inevitable tension.

The reason I bring that up is that Vladimir Putin clearly understands that the Cold War is over and that the United States and Russia can cooperate. We can cooperate with a new strategic arrangement; we can cooperate in the battle against terrorism.

We talked about a lot of the areas of the world; we talked about the Central Asian Republics, and as you know, they have been forthcoming in their statements about their understanding of a potential campaign, and I told him that I appreciated his willingness to work with us on that area. And so it was a very constructive dialogue. He also understands that to fight terrorist activity it is going to require a broad front and that his nation, like ours, is subject to terrorist attack.

As far as the Saudi Arabians go and, again, the secretary can comment on this because he's had more a recent contact with them than I have, but they've been nothing but cooperative. Our dialogue has been one as you would expect friends to be able to discuss issues. My discussion with the foreign minister as well as the ambassador have been very positive and there's been no indication, as far as I'm concerned, that the Saudis won't cooperate once they understand exactly our mission.

POWELL: That's exactly right, Mr. President. They have not turned down any requests that we have presented to them.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) from Congress for the power to waive military restrictions on all countries that help us, including those we've considered as rogue nations? And if so, why?

BUSH: First of all, we waived the sanctions on Pakistan and India, as related to the Glenn act. But I think you're referring to a report that we're going to ask for blanket exceptions or blanket waivers. And the answer is, no, we're not. It's an erroneous report.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

BUSH: Where the law allows, I will do it case by case. But we don't intend to ask Congress for a blanket waiver, as reported in one of the journals.

QUESTION: Mr. President, last week you condemned the Taliban regime and said that if they did not comply with your demands, they would share the fate of the terrorists. That raises the question, what is your administration and other coalition members planning to do to maintain stability and order in central Asia? Are we supporting this exiled king, the northern insurgents, some U.N. administration? What are our goals there if the Taliban are to be removed?

BUSH: First of all, we were mindful that every action could have a consequence. And as you know, we have spent a lot of time and effort and focus on Pakistan.

I just talked about the waiving of sanctions with Pakistan and India. We believe that'll bring stability to that part of the world. We have talked to other friends about how to make sure that the Musharraf presidency is a stable presence in that part of the world.

In terms of activities within Afghanistan, I'm not going to talk about those. I will not jeopardize our mission in any way by talking about military or in-country plans. We have a responsibility as an administration to speak as candidly as we can to the American people, but without jeopardizing life. And so, therefore, we will be willing to discuss that very important question at an appropriate time, and now is not the appropriate time.

QUESTION: Last question, put some perspective into all of this -- to put some perspective into all of this, how much -- can you tell us a rough estimate of how much the Al Qaeda network is worth domestically and perhaps and-or worldwide?

BUSH: Well, I think in my statement, I made it clear that we don't anticipate many assets to be frozen here in the United States and that most of the assets will be overseas. And one of the jobs that the secretary of treasury is going to do is to help us identify the size of the organization's balance sheet. I can't give you a rough estimate right now.

QUESTION: Tens of millions, hundreds of millions?

BUSH: Well, let's put it this way, enough to fund terrorist activity that threatens freedom. And there are -- take, for example, the nongovernmental organizations, they run a fair amount of money through their organizations and we're beginning, as you can tell from the list we've laid out or we'll be able to tell from the list, that we're beginning to set priorities of those most egregious and they're serving as fronts for terrorist activities.

I don't know the full amount of their cash flows. But one dime of money into a terrorist activity is one dime too much. And we know that these organizations cannot function, if we're able to -- the way they want to, if we're able to chop off their monies and we intend to do so and we've got a big task ahead.

In Europe, for example, there are probably going to need to be some laws changed, in order for those governments to react the way we expect them to. That's why I said in my comment, while we now -- while the secretary of treasury now has the option of providing some draconian measure, we will look at on a case-by-case basis.

We expect there to be a complete and full effort to join us in affecting terrorist organizations in all ways, shapes and forms. The reason why we held this statement in the Rose Garden is it helps the American people understand, we are waging a different kind of war. It is a war that is going to take awhile; it is a war that will have many fronts; it is a war that will require the United States to use our influence in a variety of areas in order to win it.

And one area is financial. We know there are some banks, for example, that provide easy access to money for terrorist organizations. We will deal with them. And if we can't deal with them individually, we'll call upon our friends to deal with them.

One of the interesting things that the secretary can tell you, both secretaries can tell you, is that a lot of nations and their representatives have asked, "How can we help? What can we do to join the effort?"

Some nations will feel comfortable providing troops. Some nations will feel comfortable providing intelligence. Some nations will only feel comfortable helping us wage the battle on the financial front. And that's fine by us because we understand how important it is to stop the flow of funds.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) economy. How concerned are you about consumer confidence right now? People afraid to fly, they're not traveling. And are you, at this point, concerned that the economy has already dipped into a recession?

BUSH: Well, I haven't seen -- you know, I'm not a statistician, but I've got enough anecdotal evidence to you there are people hurting and there's too many layoffs. And any time somebody loses a job in America, I'm concerned.

And I'm concerned about the shock this has had on our economy and I'm concerned about, obviously, the effect the airlines, for example, the weakness in the airline sector has had on the economy.

That's why I signed the bill as soon as Congress passed it, to provide some non-recourse loans to the airlines to keep them up and running right now.

But I want to assure the American people that the fundamentals for growth are very strong. That which made us unique in the world, that existed prior to September 11, exists today. We're still a nation of entrepreneurs and small business vitality. We're still a nation of innovation. We got a very good tax structure. And so there's no question the attacks have affected America.

But I think when the investors sit back and take a hard look at the fundamentals of the economy, they'll get back in the market. I think the consumers will realize life is going on. And I think people will appreciate the fact that our government has come together to act in a very significant way to provide monies where necessary, whether it be to help rebuild New York or whether it be to provide the financial basis for airlines to stay in business. We'll come out of this, and we'll come out of it strong. See, these terrorists thought they could affect the United States. They thought they could diminish our soul. They just strengthened our country. And while the numbers aren't going to look too good in the short run, we'll be a stronger nation as a result of this.

And they miscalculated. They made a terrible mistake. They thought somehow they could affect the psyche of our country. They're wrong, and not only that, we'll prove them wrong. They have roused the ire of a great nation.

And we're going to smoke them out of their caves and get them running. And we'll use every means at our disposal to do so. And this is going to require patience and focus and discipline on behalf by the American people and by my administration.

Now, I understand six months from now we'll be sitting around talking about some statistic, you know, something, maybe there will be an argument in Congress about some issue or something like that. But the American people have got to understand that when I held up that badge, I meant it. This war on terrorism is my primary focus.

Of course I'm concerned about people being laid off. Of course I'm concerned about pieces of legislation that may be stalled. But we are talking about a campaign against people who hate freedom, and the legacy that this administration and this generation can leave for future generations is a legacy that is so vital for the underpinnings of this nation and others who love freedom.

We are a great nation and the world has seen how great we are. You bet there are problems with our economy short-run, but not long- run. And you bet there's a concern about whether or not we'll be able to wrap up every financial instrument used to fund terrorism, but make no mistake about it, we're going after them all and we'll win. We're going to win.

Terrorists are going to realize that they can't face down freedom. Terrorists are going to realize that they made a big mistake, they miscalculated America. And I think they miscalculated a lot of our allies and friends, too. There is a determined will, and we accept the challenge in this administration.

Thank you all.

KING: We will see the president heading back into the Oval Office, thereafter announcing what he called a new U.S. government policy to -- quote -- "stop payment on terrorist organizations." The president taking a number of questions from reporters.

Significantly, the secretary of state just yesterday had said the administration would soon publish some form of a paper detailing the evidence against Osama bin Laden, backing away from that today, the president saying much of this information is classified. He brought the secretary of state into the conversation as well. Secretary Powell also saying much of this information is classified, that the administration would put out some of the evidence that it deems is not sensitive.

As to the substance of the announcement itself, Mr. Bush putting on notice, he says, the United States government will not only clamp down on terrorist organizations and their financial networks here in the United States, but that this new order he signed gives the Treasury authority to stop and punish, in the president's words, any banks overseas that do not cooperate in this effort.

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